What should our PM say about refugees? Here are 9 ideas…

Campaigning for change, Rights in crisis article written on the 19 Sep 2016

By Rights in Crisis Campaign Lead, Jessica Wheelock

In a few days, the global community will meet in New York to talk refugees — and Prime Minister Turnbull will be there. This is Australia’s chance to make a real difference to people seeking safety.

An opportunity to stand together and make a meaningful pledge to support ordinary people hoping to rebuild their lives in peace.

So what do you want our Prime Minister to say?

To give you some inspiration, here are nine of our favourite quotes about refugees, from leaders, politicians, academics and more.

“As a Nation, we remain committed to welcoming the stranger with empathy and an open heart—from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life”.

— Barack Obama, President of the United States

“… let us take time to recognise and draw inspiration from these ordinary people who have shown such extraordinary courage — the world’s millions of refugees and displaced”.

— Antonio Guterres, Former PM of Portugal

“This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations”.

— Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“Governments — the people within them — must recall their humanity, the kind I encountered when I was welcomed not long ago”.

— Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International

“I know the situation is complex.  At the same time, in many ways, it is also very simple.  We need to help fellow human beings caught up in horrendous circumstances they had no role in creating and have no power to change. We must uphold our common humanity.  It is there in all of us, waiting to be expressed.  Now is the time”.

— Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for. It has to be [our] responsibility, not to solve problems at the expense of another country, but to solve them jointly with all countries”.

— Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

“Every word I said on the issue in public was to try to say that we could do it, that we were strong enough, that we should be proud of our record as a migrant nation, and that we would be made stronger by diversity”.

— Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia

“I urge you to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees past and present”.

— Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General

“[these people] could be any one of us, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, but the situations they are in go beyond anything most of us could imagine”.

— Dr Helen Szoke, Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia

What are the refugee and migration summits?

Next week, two summits on refugees and migration will be held in New York. The first ever UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants will take place in New York on 19 September.

President Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on refugees the day after. These twin summits are set against the background of record numbers of people forcibly displaced around the world.

Last year, the United Nations reported that there were 21.3 million refuges globally, an increase of 1.7 million people over the year before. There were also 40.8 million people who as a result of armed conflict, violence and human rights violations had been forced to flee their homes but were still within their country’s borders.

The purpose of the UN Summit is to bring countries together to develop ‘a more humane and coordinated approach’ to better protect refugees and migrants and share responsibility for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit goes a step further and requires countries to make specific commitments to increase funding to humanitarian crises, to resettle more refugees, and to create increased opportunities for refugees to obtain education and work. Countries are only invited to attend if they are going to make significant new commitments.

What are the summits likely to achieve?

While the outcomes of President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit are not yet known, the document that world leaders will adopt at the UN Summit has already been negotiated and agreed. What is clear is that the document falls well short of what is needed to address the greatest displacement crisis of our time.

Instead of stepping up and making concrete commitments to protect people, countries have agreed only a broad framework and have avoided accepting any specific obligations. There is nothing in the framework that actually commits states to provide adequate funding.

There is no commitment to welcome or protect a larger share of the world’s refugees or to offer them education and access to work. No commitment to resettle 10% of the world’s refugees, as countries such as Turkey that already host a hugely disproportionate share themselves had been seeking.

The best that can be said is that the final document calls for ‘more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees’. But without firm commitments and a clear pathway to act upon, these nice words are meaningless and it is hard to see when the global response so desperately needed will come.

More people are being displaced by violence than ever before, yet governments have so far settled for empty words. Without tangible commitments, it is unlikely that much will actually change.

Specific solutions will have to be achieved, largely, after September. As Prime Ministers and Presidents plan to go to New York next week, they should not limit themselves to whatever lowest common denominator comes out of the UN Summit. Those joining President Obama the following day can immediately raise the bar by making more tangible commitments, which is why they need to hear loud and clear that the people expect them to do more there and beyond.